Building a Network for Education and Employment in Environmental Stewardship of Indigenous Lands
For the United States to maintain its leading role on the world economic stage, it is essential to strengthen the American workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Our current prosperity and our future success hinge on recruiting, training, and employing the creative and industrious STEM professionals who drive the innovation economy. Strengthening the American STEM workforce depends, in part, on broadening participation to students from demographics that have traditionally been underrepresented in STEM. This NSF INCLUDES Launch Pilot project will foster recruitment, training, and employment for indigenous STEM students, where the term "indigenous" comprises the terms Native American, American Indian, Alaskan Native, and Hawaiian Native. Specifically, this project will support the design and development of a first-of-its-kind network focused on environmental stewardship of indigenous lands. The network will comprise both tribal and government partners and will be organized by three faculty at the University of Colorado-Denver. Student recruitment, training, and employment will be organized around the unifying principle of land stewardship. The focus on land stewardship has been selected not only because it demands the expertise of STEM professionals, but also because land stewardship is among the top motivations for indigenous students considering STEM careers. Accordingly, this work is important on several fronts: It addresses the recognized need for STEM professionals; it broadens participation to students from underrepresented groups; and it provides a test bed for collective action by a first-of-its-kind network of tribal, government, and university partners.
The proposed network will work together to design, deploy, and debug a unique educational program giving students an opportunity to train for employment as tribal liaisons in the environmental field. In particular, this program will address the need for culturally-sensitive, scientifically-trained individuals who can serve as tribal liaisons between tribal and non-tribal organizations, which will allow them to prevent, minimize, or manage environmental incidents through their understanding of STEM principles and organizational dynamics. All students in this educational program will earn a regular four-year STEM degree, but a key feature of the program is that they will also participate in training and internships designed to provide background with nontechnical matters such as cultural awareness, environmental regulations, and organizational dynamics. Additionally, this educational program is designed to support recruitment of indigenous students by (1) providing a clear vision of a high-impact, culturally-relevant professional career and by (2) providing a cultural connection with obtaining a college degree. Taken together, the network aims to increase enrollment, retention, graduation, and alumni activity by indigenous students. Best practices and strategies for collective impact will be used to document achievement of the network in increasing the enrollment, retention, graduation, and alumni activity of indigenous students in higher education and in STEM careers. Continuous feedback will be collected to assess partner engagement and durability, and student satisfaction, performance, and progress. The network is expected to be sustainable because it addresses a demonstrated need; it is expected to be scalable because scientifically aware, culturally-sensitive individuals who can serve as tribal liaisons are needed not only regionally, but nationally.
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